You alright down there?
“– wait –”
He heaved. His stomach groaned a morbid whine and his throat choked up another gurgle. Alex spat, then panted, then wheezed into the toilet. The silence crept back. He broke it with a flush.
Now’re you done?
“Wait.” Nothing lurched, but his gut felt full, like he’d caught it on break rather than a real end to this. The pressure in his head had faded though, and his ears finally quit buzzing. Was this… optimism? “Yeah. I’m done, I think.”
Awesome. You’re not, by the way.
He knew it. Alex collapsed for another ten minutes of sweat, snot and vomit. His nose leaked from the constant smell of acid and his eyes burned like they were on fire. He burped, triggering a new rush of phlegm, followed by a rickety hiccup parade, long pauses, bonus dry heaves, then a flush.
“Okay,” he rasped. “That’s it. That’s everything.”
“Yeah. I’m good.” And an extra flush for good measure. He wiped a hand over his mouth. “Where’s the toothpaste?”
Toilet. So it was, swirling in the bowl. It’s fine. The cap’s still on.
“Forget it.” That’s what he got for flailing: toilet toothpaste. Alex crawled to the sink and grabbed his mouthwash instead. That small act of hand-eye coordination took a stressful thirty seconds longer than normal. “Next time, we puke in the kitchen.” Because the wreckage between here and the front door had been unbelievable. His foot throbbed with a gist of it. “I think I broke my toe.”
“But I wouldn’t’ve if I didn’t need hiking gear to take a piss.” He never thought he owned a lot until he’d had to sprint across the remains. The process might’ve been more delicate if he wasn’t juggling his digestion, about to add it on the floor like a river to a mountain range. “You’re fixing this tomorrow. Starting with that window.”
The window’s gone. How much more fixed does it get?
So there was Xander’s logic at full force. Alex knew enough about brick walls to not run at one.
“I’ll hang a curtain or something,” he muttered.
That’ll fool ‘em.
“Eat a dick.”
His stomach sloshed in misery as he struggled to stand. He had to tense until it settled, which took a while. When he trusted it to manage the knock-off Listerine, he gargled a cheekful of the stuff and leaned his head outside the bathroom. His apartment stared back. Empty. Quiet. Dark. Unrelated to the fight, their lights’d blown two nights ago. Lucky they had a massive hole in the wall. The moon’s freezing, blueish glow really cheered this place from Hostel to a less haunted scene out of Hostel II.
Looking for someone?
“No.” Alex horked the mouthwash at the drain, staining it green where the basin wasn’t rusted orange already. “I’m trying to figure out why I’m sick.” His pseudo-Agent-sense never got this bad. Nausea, sure, but not this sudden. “What do you think?”
“The girl.” Obviously. “Did you get any vibes when you talked to her? Anything… special?”
Besides the part where she tried soaping up a disembodied voice with her voice? Xander shrugged. She’s great. Good taste in disembodied voices.
“That’s exactly what I meant.” That was sarcasm. His stomach didn’t appreciate it, or it was protesting his decision to leave and start spelunking towards the front door. He ignored the noisy sack of guts, clenched his teeth and kept moving. On top of all of this, they were not sleeping in an unlocked room. “We went downstairs – ow – to check who she is, not turn it into a sex thing.” A Pequods thing. The same thing, if he thought about it. “She’s not your new Delaney.”
Alright. She’s New Maggie.
“Maggie?” Well, that hit like a brick. “Russian Maggie – the girl with the… with the thing – she was an Agent, too?”
I think the real insult behind eluding the Agency for almost a decade comes from you doing it without actually ever clicking in to who wants to murder you. The guy sounded thrilled about it. They called you a tactician, man! That’s like book snobs saying you’re the new Orwell.
Luck was a tactic. For the three years before his breakdown, Alex’d lived off of it pretty okay. What helped was how easy-going the Agents were about him back then. They’d thrown a few defenses together – like those sunglasses with mirrored lenses – but it wasn’t until his walking-rage-coma that he jumped from ‘a little slippery’ to ‘undeniable complication requiring full force containment’. But by then, he had Xander. Luck, blanket distrust and violence: the trio hadn’t failed yet.
His stomach rolled again. Cold sweat had beaded on his face. His tongue felt like soggy paper. Finally close enough to the door to chain it and set a fast barricade, he turned to the kitchen and aimed for the sink, re-crushing clumps of drywall.
“You held a full conversation without attacking her,” Alex reasoned, bringing it back to basics. “The girl’s not an Agent.”
That’s what you’re banking on? My word? Xander stopped sounding impressed. So, what – nine hours ‘til you panic and waste my night double-checking every time I could’ve lied to you?
He thought it would only take a night? Add another lie to the list.
“I’m not going to do that.”
Fuck you, ‘I’m not gonna do that’. Meanwhile Alex had reached the Promised Land and began his hunt for a glass. Clean or intact, either worked. Screw it – they both were pipe dreams. He drank from the tap. I promise, if I have to hear your sobbing about her next week, I’ll walk you into traffic.
“Then I won’t mention her.”
You will. Do the fucking date and get your own opinion, ‘cause God forbid you trust me for once that it’s fine.
The water helped, but he still felt shaky. And cold. It had to be because something was wrong with her. Right? Instinctively, a wise part of him refused to trust her for a good reason? His stomach gave a loud agreement – drowning Xander’s mental snort – and he swore her pros and cons looked too neat. Maybe because she lived under him or whatever, but he needed a final answer.
“Alright. I’ll go.” And leave the room to wander streets full of Agents. “But you’re only pushing it for coffee.”
Gift horse, Alex. We’ve been through this. ‘Sides, she’s kinda hot. I mean, if you squint and ignore the farm clothes.
Stomach twist. Stress-rash. As he swallowed past his mouth’s returning dryness, Alex casually tried to ask, “You think that’s how they’ll get us? With kinda hot people?” Attractive but disarming. Friendly and not a threat. “It could be like Peter –”
Hey, look! Next week came early.
Forget it. Never mind.
The pizza sat on the counter, sweating lukewarm cheese grease. Alex tossed the leftovers in his fridge. Presto: tomorrow’s breakfast.
“I’m going to bed.” He’d had enough of tonight’s adventures. “Wake me up for the ‘date’.”
“I dunno.” He yawned. “What time’s it now?”
Alex had to ask, because completely related to the fight, the clock on their oven was also smashed.
“Okay. Six, then. Six-thirty.” His left temple pounded. The room suddenly seemed too loud. With or without his consent, Alex’s body wanted rest. “Pick one. I have to sleep.”
Party pooper. Fine, get to bed. The opposite happened. Yeah, I’m just gonna end this guy real quick.
So basically, the next fourteen seconds played out as a gagging squeal, Alex’s hand around a neck, his other fist crushing into cloaked ribs, followed by the blam of a fully visible Agent inside his apartment breaking through their now ex-table. The force sent chunks of wood tearing at his wall, gashing the spackle with craters and blinding him while he hacked on dust. Then Xander was at the Agent and digging it out of the rubble by its jaw.
Alex knew what it was, but he still screeched, coughing, “What the fuck is that?”
“I can see it’s a suit, Xander!” Skinny, masked, wearing a black unitard: it wasn’t allowed to be something else. “Where did it come from?”
Oh, he’s been here the whole time.
“Wh–” For fucking fuck’s sake – “Doing what?”
Suit stuff. ‘Suit stuff’. Xander yanked the fabric off its head. A wheeze ran from the Agent’s face as it hit the open air. He was standing there, fading. You know, the regular shit they do. “But he didn’t engage his diaphragm, which’s why the wind got knocked out his ass.” The Agent failed to reply to Xander’s out loud scolding, more than likely distracted by trying to breathe. That and I saw ‘im. Stupid suit.
Alex didn’t. Alex hadn’t seen anyone.
Fading – shit. Shit. That crap was the reason he hated suits more than the regular assholes, including the big guys. Their unitards let them turn invisible – Not invisible, ‘cause if they went invisible, they’d call it that – or near it enough to paint every encounter the same as finding a spider crawling over his mouth: probably not an immediate death, but goddammit, too close, he hated spiders.
“What’re you gonna do with it?” His breathing sped. His arms gripped like steel where Xander had control, but everywhere else – the parts Alex still managed – felt weak. “What’s – uh… What’s the plan?”
The fuck d’you think the plan is? I’m gonna kill him, Xander chirped. He almost skipped as he pulled the Agent to the kitchen, specifically across jagged clusters of plywood. Where’d I put those chains?
“You’re hanging it?”
Yes, Alex, I’m hanging him. You murder people at will, but I’m gonna burn the little energy I have and dangle him from the ceiling for giggles. He watched his hands rifle among old sprays and wilted sponges shoved under the sink. I’m tying him up, moron. I can’t waste a suit. He’s one of the goggles kind! Xander found the chains. Can’t kill him yet, anyway.
The practice they had at this showed when Xander pried the suit’s eyes open. Delirious, it glanced at him. That was all they needed. Alex’s vision warped, stinging like someone squirted onion juice, but his crystal clear line of sight needled into the Agent’s head. By the time Xander started hooking iron around it, the suit was seizing in a mess of froth.
He never picked an official name, but this was what they – Alex – did. From two inches away or across acres of field, so long as he made eye contact and sucked up the chafing pupils, he could mutely set whatever-he-called-it off. So sayeth the Agents, his powers autopsied like natural causes. Xander called this benefit a ‘nifty alibi’. The Frenchman just called dibs.
“How did it get here?”
It wasn’t leaving the same way. The metal strangled it. He watched the Agent flop against the chain links and still nothing gave. They’d had a lot practice with hostages, too.
Well, Xander began, dragging the suit back along the floor, I shooed you downstairs to let him scope the place. Considering he not only stayed but scoped the whole way to the door, and given the length of time we were downstairs chit-chatting, I’d say we trapped him halfway through his sweep, implying his most feasible entry point’s at the other end of the room.
So the gaping hole in the wall.
Alex’d spent his ‘For fuck’s sake’ too early.
“You invited it?” Why would Xander – oh cool, he answered his own question before he even finished it. “How the hell long did you know about this?”
Remember when I chucked a chair at the window? About then. Alex felt himself shrug. I saw his head pop up when you got your shirt, the creepy bastard. Alex felt a wave of discomfort. I still can’t believe he came in after I threw it, either. But he did! Hilarious. The moral is suits are stupid.
Which is why the Agents stopped sending them years ago. Their fading didn’t work since Xander could cut through the illusion, meaning the bullshit involved in seeing one here right now, despite that, brought a rare peak to his Screw Goddamn Everything meter.
“Where’re the rest of them? Are there more?” There had to be. His life was shit piled on more shit, and at that, a nerve under his cheek twitched. “Xander?”
He’s a suit. They’ve got too much ego to play on teams. If there are more, they’re not coming for him. Xander dropped the thing, gave a stretch, then added, Bed.
“No, something’s wrong.” His rash burned. Alex whipped his head towards the corners, glaring at the shadows and ignoring the pained groan from his gut. “They got brave enough to start this crap again. It can’t be a coincidence. First a girl walks over, then this?”
Hey. Pastry puff. I’m tired, Xander said. I’m tired because you’re tired. Unless you wanna fend off your own ambushes, go to bed so I’ve got shit to work with tomorrow.
Bed. The feeling in Alex’s hands returned, shaking. Xander hadn’t lasted to wind down the adrenaline from this, and his final push of control just nudged their foot at the mattress. I used to take over for weeks. This is depressing.
“Yeah. Really sad.” Those weeks were permanently burned into his mind. Good riddance. “The Agent’s not going to be a problem, right?”
If I were you, I’d focus more on napping off that food poisoning. I’ll handle Goggles.
Alex refused to take his eyes off it. He walked backwards through the chaos until his leg hit the bed’s. When he sat, he heard a mental light bulb click.
“Uh…” No, Xander had said it. Alex wasn’t crazy. “‘Food poisoning’?”
Yeah. The word dragged. The pizza may have been definitely undercooked. Microwave it next time. Is that still broken? Stuff it down the toaster.
His exhaustion swept in again. Alex swayed and tucked himself under the blanket. Food poisoning. Well… that didn’t matter. He had the timing of this mess to stress out about now. The girl jumped three ticks in his suspicion.
Seriously screw Xander for the pizza, though.
“Good night, asshole.”
“If that wakes up –”
I got it.
Good enough. He closed his eyes. On the third try, they even stayed closed.